Ridge Spring Focusing on Getting Families Outside More Often

Ridge Spring Focusing on Getting Families Outside More Often

Town of Ridge Spring, SC made park improvements
New sensory equipment

Rural municipalities are relying on increased community engagement to enhance amenities and opportunities for families to explore local businesses, as well as provide inclusive play opportunities for children of all abilities. Focusing on these types of improvements means looking at the built environment, which influences healthy eating and physical activity.

The built environment includes the man-made spaces where we live. When community leaders value the surroundings and what they offer to attract residents and visitors, there is an opportunity to create more liveable, thriving spaces for recreation and transportation purposes. In Ridge Spring, SC, community leaders are investing in changes to the environment to increase walking, bicycling, outdoor playing and the local economy.

With assistance from the Upper Savannah Council on Governments, the Town of Ridge Spring applied for a Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Mini-Grant to purchase and install bike racks and inclusive playground equipment. The small, rural Saluda County town wanted to encourage residents to become more active. They proposed installing bicycle racks at the farmers market and interactive sensory equipment at the community playground.  

Town of Ridge Spring, SC made park improvements
New and updated riders

According to their application, several public hearings related to streetscape (view of a street) projects and potential improvements related to walkability (a measure of how friendly an area is to walking) were held and residents responded. They were interested in being able to walk and bike to places more safely. There was also a desire to update the community playground. Like many rural community parks, the equipment was outdated, unsafe and unappealing.

With HEAL Mini-Grant funds, Ridge Spring installed a bike rack at the farmers market, providing opportunities for cyclists to secure their bicycles and feel comfortable while they browse and shop. At the playground, new sensory-related equipment was installed, which helps make the space more inclusive of children’s needs. Observations indicate increased usage of the playground and children are playing longer.

Through the mini-grant, the town found a new partnership with Kids in Parks, a non-profit organization focused on getting families and children to spend more time outside. The new partnership could lead to additional funding opportunities to assist with future projects. Leaders also have their eye on improving another community playground and placing more bike racks in other areas of the town.

Town of Ridge Spring, SC made park improvements
Bike rack at the farmers market

Oconee County Students, Community Get Active Pathways  

Oconee County Students, Community Get Active Pathways  

Nestled between Oconee State Park and Lake Keowee in Oconee County, students at Tamassee-Salem Elementary School are reaping the benefits of active pathways, also known as sensory pathways, and blacktop games, and so are community members. In 2022, former Physical Education Teacher Leah Ryan made it her mission to give the students, teachers and community an outlet for brain breaks and fun physical activity. She applied for a Wholespire Healthy Eating and Active Living Mini-Grant and got it!

Sensory pathways have become a popular tool for school administrators and teachers to help students stimulate their cognitive activity with movement. They are a series of visual cues on the ground that guide students along a particular path. From jumping, leaping, and walking a line, students follow the guided paths for a fun break between classes, during indoor recess and other ways teachers choose to incorporate them into their lesson plan.

In his letter of support, Tamassee-Salem Elementary School Principal Bobby Norizan said, “What I love about this initiative is that it is sustainable, and simply put, it is something that will help make physical activity more enjoyable. We have several families use our walking track outside of school hours, but I feel like we will be providing more opportunities other than simply walking the track if we are able to add the active pathway activities.”

Principal Norizan said, “The Four Square games not only provide an opportunity for physical activity but also opportunities for students to socially interact within the rules during active play, which is vital regarding the developmental growth of their students.”

Tamassee-Salem Elementary School received funding for the purchase of reusable stencil kits and paint. They leveraged 12 hours of volunteer time to place and paint the pathways. Pathways were placed on the walking path, a paved sidewalk that circles the school. Four Square games were placed in the recess area.

Mrs. Ryan said in her application, “A couple of teachers use the path as a brain break for their students. This active pathway will encourage more teachers to take their students outside more, and students will get to benefit from the open play. I teach students how to play Four Square in my physical education class. It is an easily accessible and simple game to play. Having the courts will give students access to a physically active game they can play at recess.”

Community members in Tamassee and Salem who use the walking path for physical activity benefit from the active pathways too. The School District of Oconee County adopted an Open Community Use Policy, which allows community members to use outdoor recreational facilities on school grounds for physical activity and play. Now, children aren’t the only ones who can jump, leap and walk a line as they navigate the path. Adults can too!

Physical activity is not just a vital component of a healthy lifestyle; it also plays a crucial role in academic success and overall well-being, especially in the school environment. More and more school administrators and teachers are emphasizing the integration of physical activity into the daily lives of students. Administrators and teachers at rural Tamassee-Salem Elementary School are part of the growing innovation in creating healthier school environments.

Historical Greenwood neighborhood seeks a renewed promise of a healthy, thriving community

Historical Greenwood neighborhood seeks a renewed promise of a healthy, thriving community

Greenwood County is home to one of our nation’s most influential civil rights leaders — Benjamin Mays, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s mentors. If you look deep into the historical records of this rural county, you will find other interesting facts that have shaped the lives of community members today.

Let’s take Promised Land Association, Inc. It’s a historic neighborhood just outside of the City of Greenwood that represents the promise of a better life. Promised Land is an African American community created by former slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War in 1870. For over 150 years, the people who call Promised Land home have endured unspeakable challenges and hardships, yet they remained strong with a steadfast eye on keeping their community safe and the people healthy and thriving.

Wholespire learned about Promised Land during the 2022 Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Mini-Grant call for applications, and even more so during a recent site visit. “It’s such a remarkable and inspiring story to hear. This community is determined to give their neighbors the resources they need to lead healthier lives,” said Kelsey Sanders, MPH, CHES, community relations manager at Wholespire. “We feel honored to play a small role in the history of this neighborhood.”

Before taking her walk, Promised Land community member and organizer Jeanette Austin met Wholespire staff at the project site and provided an overview of the walking trail project and future plans.

For the Promised Land Association, things have fallen into place for them over the years. In 2016, Greenwood County voters approved $66,326 for the construction of a pedestrian trail in the Promised Land community as part of the Capital Project Sales Tax initiative. The pedestrian trail was constructed on a large tract of land owned by the Association where the Promised Land ballfield and the old school are located in Bradley, SC. 

“Previously having to walk on the roads with the traffic, I wouldn’t hear the cars until they were right up on me. So, my husband got concerned about my safety and wasn’t comfortable with me walking by myself,” said Jeanette Austin, Promise Land community member and organizer. “The walking track is so beneficial for the people living here and especially for the seniors. A walking trail helps those of us with our health. You can come on out and walk.”

She says the Association saw a need for a few basic amenities to keep the area attractive to new people. They turned to the Upper Savannah Council of Governments for assistance with writing their HEAL mini-grant application. The application was accepted and the community received funding for a picnic table, two swings, and a trash can.

“There’s a small core group that keeps the Association going and we don’t have the interest yet within the community but we’re working on doing some things,” says Austin. “We’re pleased with our progress and we’re looking forward to great things here in Promised Land!”

The Promised Land Association wants to turn the old school into a community center.

What kinds of great things are they looking forward to? They want to eventually transform the paved trail into a rubberized surface. Also, there’s an old school adjacent to the walking track and ballfield. They want to preserve the history of the building by turning it into a community center. It’s an ambitious goal but given the history and resilience of Promised Land and its people, it will be a celebrated accomplishment when they cross the finish line.

CareSouth organizes community gardens to fight food insecurity in Society Hill

CareSouth organizes community gardens to fight food insecurity in Society Hill

Society Hill volunteers start building garden beds
Volunteers in Society Hill unload supplies for the community garden.

Driving 30-45 minutes to buy groceries is a burden that residents in Society Hill face every day because there isn’t a grocery store in the community. Residents only have access to unhealthy food at local convenience stores and the local Family Dollar. CareSouth and community volunteers are changing that by creating a community garden where residents can plant and grow fruits and vegetables for free.  

CareSouth was one of 13 organizations that recently received a healthy eating and active living (HEAL) mini-grant from Wholespire to address food insecurity. The community garden is located on the historical site of St. David’s Academy, a property that CareSouth acquired for renovation and office use. They generously agreed to reserve part of the property for the community garden.  

“The raised bed gardens have already been built for community members to plant and maintain their fall gardens,” said Christy Beasley, community health educator at CareSouth. “Retired farmer and community garden volunteer Dick Baird is leading the project by starting seeds on flatbeds, helping families plant their gardens, and providing expertise on maintenance.”   

Volunteers in Society Hill start constructing gardens beds
Volunteers in Society Hill start constructing gardens beds for their community garden.

Beasley says four families have planted fall gardens, and they expect more families to take advantage of this free resource in the Spring. She says Society Hill is buzzing about the gardening opportunity and four people donated money to the project.   

“I have met personally with members of the community at the local school. Teachers, parents, staff and community members are extremely interested in a community garden to learn about gardening, nutrition and working with others in the community,” says Beasley.    

In addition to encouraging community members to plant and maintain their garden plots, project plans will include education about planting seeds, pests and weeds, seed saving, and harvesting and cooking the fruits of their labor. Ultimately, Beasley hopes this gardening experience will give community members the confidence to grow gardens in their backyards. 

City of Clinton, YMCA and others partner to feed the community

City of Clinton, YMCA and others partner to feed the community

Clinton High School students build the fueling station structure.

Residents in Clinton and its surrounding areas have limited opportunities to be active and obtain nutritious food, however, local leaders are in the process of changing that. Wholespire recently awarded the City of Clinton a healthy eating and active living (HEAL) mini-grant to build a fueling station housed at the YMCA of Clinton.

According to their mini-grant application, the City of Clinton is partnering with the YMCA of Clinton to create an onsite fueling station that will supply nutritious foods to the community free of charge. They recruited students from Clinton High School to build and assemble the shelving unit located at the YMCA. High-quality and nutritious food will be gathered, gleaned, and purchased from local food partners including local farms, grocers, and donors.

“The most common complaint shared by guests of the YMCA is the high expense of food, especially healthy food. They try to balance a healthy lifestyle by working out, but more often than not, they will go home and eat something that is not very healthy,” said City of Clinton Community Relations Specialist Lacresha Dowdy.

Residents have access to only two grocery stores, but they are both on one side of town, which puts many of people at a disadvantage in accessing affordable or good-quality fresh food. Data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control indicates that Laurens County has a 26.2% higher food insecurity rate among children and 24.1% among adults when compared to the state average. Health outcomes are also poor with high rates of diabetes (13.8%), obesity (38.5%) and elevated child BMI demonstrated in school surveillance data.

Clinton High School students are ready to get started on the fueling station structure.

Dowdy added, “The data tells us that the problems of hunger and food insecurity and the epidemic of diabetes, obesity and obesity-related chronic disease have become daunting concerns. The statistics speak for themselves in that 100% of middle and high school students are eligible for free or reduced lunch; and 13% of adults record having limited access to healthy foods, higher than 9% rank for SC.”

Providing free food to the community isn’t the only purpose of the fueling station project. In addition to providing produce and other food items from their farm, LushAcres Farm will allow gleaning field trips for Laurens County School District students. This experience will allow youth to be more conscience of healthy food environments and increase their understanding of the larger food system.

Another component of the project includes educating the community on nutrition, proper food preparation, kitchen safety and cooking skills provided by Clemson Youth Learning Institute SNAP-Ed. Classes will be held for youth, teens, and adults.

The City of Clinton is one of 13 communities that received funding for projects that support populations in need of community resources like the fueling station, playground equipment, school gardens, and hydration stations.

The HEAL Mini-Grant initiative is made possible by a grant from the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.